ATLANTA — There were always suspicions, suggestions, sometimes accusations that Don Sutton knew how to scuff a ball--cut it, mark it so that it would move to his advantage.
Did he? Sutton doesn't directly answer the query.
"I never got caught scuffing a ball," he said, smiling. "I got accused of throwing a defaced ball, and I confess, too, of never throwing a ball out of play if it was dirty or banged up. Only an idiot would do that.
"It used to bug the heck out of me, just when a ball got just right, bounced a couple of times in the dirt or off the wall a couple times, some smart-aleck wanted to take it out of play. I know it was good for the economy of Haiti [where the balls were made then], but it was bad for the pitcher."
Umpire Doug Harvey ejected Sutton from a 1978 game in St. Louis for throwing a defaced ball, and an American League umpiring crew displayed a bag full of defaced balls after a game he pitched with the Angels in Anaheim. However, he was never suspended or fined. His stiffest penalty was a letter of reprimand from the National League.
"So in the future," he said, referring to the St. Louis incident, "I gave the umpires my word that if I came across a ball that had something wrong with it, I would point it out to them."
Did he honor that?
"Yes, I did," he said. "Some of the time."